COMMENTARY | Right-handed rookie David Hale made his major league debut for the Atlanta Braves on Friday night, striking out nine and allowing zero runs in five innings of work.
Even though the bullpen would eventually give up four runs to ruin his potential first win, his performance did show another in a long line of productive rookies that Braves have waiting to make a difference.
After Alex Wood emerged as a reliable pitcher and Julio Teheran established himself as a front-line starter, the Braves suddenly have a surplus of young players zooming up the conveyor belt of their farm system.
The success of all these talented youngsters could have the Atlanta roster looking quite different in 2014. Which veterans could be in danger of losing their job next season?
When Hudson broke his ankle against the New York Mets on July 24, his Atlanta career ostensibly ended. In his nine seasons with the Braves, Hudson has accumulated a 113-72 record with a 3.59 ERA.
There may have been no classier or more consistent pitcher for the Braves, but the ugly business of baseball will likely make it all about the math when it comes down to whether or not to retain "Huddy."
Hudson gave Atlanta good production for the $9 million per year he has made over the last four seasons, but his salary demands might be more than the entire rotation would stand to make in 2014 combined.
The Braves traded for Maholm in 2012 to bolster their rotation and then re-signed the veteran southpaw in 2013 to a one-year, $6.5 million deal. The lefty pitched great through the first three months of the season, but injuries have slowed his production to the point that not offering him a new contract should be a widely held certainty by now.
Maholm will be a free agent for about five minutes, as teams will fall all over themselves for a reliable left-hander, but Atlanta simply has too much pitching and too many mouths to feed next year.
Perhaps letting Hudson and Maholm walk will open up enough cash to keep McCann where he belongs. McCann has been a member of the Braves for his entire nine-year career. He is a homegrown native of the great state of Georgia, and fans wants to see their local hero treated like Chipper Jones 2.0. In their eyes, the Braves need to find a way to make McCann the next lifer in Atlanta who one day has No. 16 retired alongside past legends.
The problem is that McCann will be a free agent coming off a season in which he made $12 million. The early signs of impending knee trouble for McCann will make the American League DH a very attractive option to extend the life of his career. After notching his seventh season of 20 or more home runs, McCann is still very productive, and someone will overpay for those numbers.
Fans must also consider that Evan Gattis is waiting in the wings to become the next starting catcher for the Braves. Gattis has hit just fewer homer than McCann but actually has two more RBIs in a season in which he makes just $490,000.
Arbitration-Eligible Players Will Demand A Lot
McCann may lose his spot at the table simply because there will be a lot of players looking for a slice of the Braves' limited pie. The only problem with having so much young talent on one team is that they all become arbitration-eligible at the same time.
Freddie Freeman is a National League MVP candidate making $560,000. It is safe to say that number may rise a bit. Some could argue that Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in the bigs -- and they would win that argument nine times out of 10 -- so how much of a bump will his $655,000 salary get in 2014? I'm guessing the Atlanta front office will have to take a field trip to Scrooge McDuck's money pool and just keep shoveling until their arms get tired.
Anyone need a good laugh? The only players Atlanta has with a contract for next season are -- wait for this -- Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton. Everyone else is either a free agent or arbitration-eligible. Jason Heyward, Chris Johnson, Jordan Schafer, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and virtually the entire NL-leading bullpen will be in need of new deals.
Now who needs a good cry? Uggla and the Upton brothers will earn $40.9 million combined next season. Anyone wondering why the Braves won't be able to afford McCann can stop wondering.
A Very Crowded Bullpen
An MLB bullpen generally consists of seven members. Kimbrel is the unquestioned closer, which leaves six spots up for grabs. Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters both had to have season-ending Tommy John surgery this season, but will be in line to reclaim their spots at some point in 2014. O'Flaherty will be an unrestricted free agent and Venters is among the arbitration-eligible, so either or both could still become a cost-cutting casualty.
Scott Downs was a nice mid-season pickup, but his $5 million salary and status as an unrestricted free agent will likely mean it will be Downs or O'Flaherty, but not both next year.
Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, Anthony Varvaro, Luis Ayala and Luis Avilan will all be players without a contract that Atlanta will have to look to re-sign. With as many as ten players vying for seven slots, some pitchers will be left without a seat in the bullpen when the music stops.
Hale could have pitched his way into a major league contract for next season with his dominating debut -- it just might not be with the Braves.
If the Braves want to improve their roster this offseason, they will have plenty of young players to help make it happen. Could there be a team out their willing to take on Uggla's ridiculous contract if one of the young arms were packaged with him? I have to say I would love to see a player like Jose Altuve in a Braves uniform next season. How many minor leaguers would it take for the rebuilding Houston Astros to want to make that a reality?
But then again, Ramiro Pena was hitting .278 before his season was cut short due to injury. Could Pena be in line to become the everyday second baseman if Atlanta could shed a "Str-Uggla-ing" contract?
Attractive minor leaguers such as Ernesto Mejia, Todd Cunningham, Tommy La Stella, J.R. Graham and Cody Martin mean the Braves have a lot of talent in the pipeline ready to either help them at the major league level or be packaged in deals.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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